Ronald Mahla is a spirited man with a quick wit and a sarcastic sense of humor. His penchant for good music, his acumen in the poolroom, his many years as a self-made entrepreneur, and his love for family have shaped his life. We must preface Ron’s biography by noting his incredibly humble nature despite his many achievements, which serve to underscore his grit and solidly grounded character.
We present to you, Mr. Ronald Mahla.
Ronald was born on October of 1926 in Brookline, a bustling community located in the South Hills of Pittsburgh. He was the only child of an Irish mother and a German father. His parents were both musically gifted, which have continually inspired Ron’s love and appreciation for music throughout his lifetime.
He remembers his parents making music, his mother playing on the piano and his father joining in on the violin. One of his favorite tunes remains to be “St. Louis Blues.” Despite Ron’s hesitation to learn piano from an official teacher, he picked up the melodies quickly from his mother.
To this day, Ron can make beautiful music from the piano keys, which inadvertently conjure up many fond memories.
Ron went to a Catholic school, but he was not drawn to the environment and wasn’t interested in school; in fact, he was able to quit in the 8th grade. It is clear that Ron excelled in everything in which he found particular interest.
One passion that he nurtured at a young age was the art of billiards. He honed his technique from a young age, and soon enough, he always had money in his pockets and could live independently.
He laughs at the thought of the potential risks involved, but yet again, he most often wound up on top. He would play pool in Brookline and at a few places in downtown Pittsburgh. When Ron was 14 years old, he also worked for Fischer Scientific as a “paper flattener.”
At age 17, Ron joined the navy voluntarily. In 1944, he went to boot camp in New York and soon after found himself in California, ready to be shipped to Okinawa, Japan. He and his friends were forced to face the fact that they might never return from their mission, and in light of this, they decided to buy a bottle of whiskey and all get tattoos!
Once in Japan, Ron recalls the brutal 130 mph deadly winds and the fear that was ever-present. He was lucky to leave Japan unscathed, and he went to China for a period of duty as well.
Of course, the atomic bomb officially ended operations in that hemisphere, and Ron returned to Pittsburgh, safe and relieved. Even though Ron’s tattoo was scripted as “Mother,” his Irish mother was less than pleased with his ink, and he was forced to hide it from that point onward!
Ron grew up across the street from his future wife of 51 years, Mary Elizabeth Horgan.
Ron “wanted to marry her when (he) was 14 years old, but she wouldn’t let (him).”
They got married in September of 1948, and they proceeded to have seven children. Ron joked that if he had been able to marry her earlier, there would have been even more children.
After the war, Ron worked for a period of time at a beer distributer, and then he worked with his father at George H. Alexander Company on Wood Street, “selling nickel and dime (office supplies).” It was at this company where he asked to place a file cabinet and a desk in the window for sale one day, an idea that set him in a new direction.
Ron slowly became interested in buying and selling office furniture. He started a company with used furniture in 1964. He would buy used furniture, and he would clean, repair, and polish the pieces for his showroom. He eventually went into selling new furniture as well. He bought an eight story building in downtown Pittsburgh as a showroom and warehouse for his growing business and inventory of new and used furniture at 713 Penn Avenue.
He was growing so fast, however, he needed even more room for his inventory; therefore, he bought a second building on 1200 Penn Avenue that was used as a warehouse. In 1982, he opened his second retail office furniture store on the first floor of 1200 Penn Avenue.
After outgrowing his warehouse on Penn Avenue, he ended up buying a third building in Pittsburgh’s Strip District in 1986, which he used for his ever-growing business of selling quality office furniture that continues to operate to this day supplying furniture for various companies. His children run the company, Mahla Office Furniture, presently.
During this time, Ron’s wife, Elizabeth, proclaimed to him that she wanted to start an antique furniture business in his building in the Strip District.
She created a successful business, Mahla & Co Antiques, in 1995 selling beautiful antiques that continues to flourish today under her daughters’ direction. Her care in creating the collection of antiques is evident today.
Ron respect for his late wife is abounding, and he credits her strength, intelligence and loving nature as one of his greatest inspirations and motivations for his own success.
He also credits her when displaying the care that went into designing their home and beautiful garden, and of course he notes the love with which she raised their children.
Ron and his wife instilled a love for music to their children as well.
Ron is a self-made man.
He remains very humble despite his many accomplishments, and he is proof that one doesn’t need a formal education to reach great heights. Much can be achieved in life with grit, determination, passion, field expertise, and with a family to feed.
Although Ron is known for his knack for sales and hard-working nature, his humor and his love for his family are truly his legacy.
He played some tunes for us on the piano after the interview, and his hands still fly knowingly over the keys.