George Parr, a 72-year-old Hyattsville resident, never considered himself a community activist. It took a whisper in church that the Eugene Leland Memorial Hospital was headed for closure to turn the retired Department of Defense analyst into a civic organizer and member of a senior citizens activist group.

"I'd never volunteered to do anything, but I said, 'I'll do this,' " said Parr, who credits efforts at the three-story facility, at 4409 East West Hwy. in Riverdale, with saving his wife's life. "I knew that it was very easy to say we need Leland open, but {preventing the closing} was useless unless I got out there and did something."

Such personal commitment typified the emotions behind recent citizen efforts to keep the doors open at the small hospital, and resulted in the birth of an organization dedicated to pushing to the forefront local issues of interest to senior citizens.

Within a year after the closing was announced, Betterment for United Seniors had amassed wide community support to keep the hospital open and gained the ear of politicians and Leland officials.

And last week, the hospital's owner, Adventist Health Systems, announced that it was abandoning plans to close the hospital and would try to sell it instead.

Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening said Betterment for United Seniors had made the difference.

"The hospital's decision to sell instead of shutting down was clearly a case of a community victory," Glendening said. "The vanguard of that leadership clearly was the seniors who mobilized passionately and significantly."

In recent days, a group of Leland physicians has repeated its offer to purchase the 50-year-old hospital in a joint venture that could include the town of Riverdale and local community groups.

Adventist Health Systems, which is trying to pay off a $9 million bond debt to Riverdale, rejected the offer last year. The company also owns Washington Adventist and Shady Grove Adventist hospitals in Montgomery County and Hadley Hospital in the District.

Adventist Health Systems, an affiliate of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, announced a year ago this month that it would phase out operations at the 120-bed hospital over a two-year period, citing projected losses of $1 million by the end of 1990. Adventist officials had planned to eventually convert Leland into a 70-bed medical center for stroke and accident victims.

Today, local residents are optimistic about the hospital's future, but they caution that Leland is not out of the woods yet.

"We still have a long way to go from the point of having {Adventist officials} say, 'Yes, we will keep it open or we have found a buyer who will keep it exactly the way it is,' " Glendening said.

A massive heart attack nearly a decade ago left Doris Bishop, 72, weak with an irregular heartbeat but strong in her allegiance to the hospital she credits with nursing her back to health.

The longtime Hyattsville resident defines her efforts to save Leland -- at one point she was attending three strategy meetings a week -- as self-preservation.

"If it hadn't been for the nurses and doctors there, I wouldn't be here today. So when they were in trouble and needed help, I came," Bishop said.

Many of the doctors who practice at the hospital also have offices there. Residents say this access is invaluable.

In addition to saving lives, Leland serves as a social center and inexpensive diner for seniors on fixed incomes and without the mobility to travel far from home.

Seniors from nearby retirement communities including Friendship Arms, Spelman House and Cottage City gather daily at Leland's cafeteria for companionship and a hot meal costing less than $3. The closeness of the community comes in large part from the opportunity to stay in contact with one another through the hospital.

"If you lose the hospital, the hope in the community goes down," Parr said. "It's like when a supermarket closes, it starts the area down the road of deterioration."

For Dorothea Blanchard, the matter comes down to the simple nuts and bolts of employment. Leland's oldest working nurse, she would be among about 400 workers who would lose their jobs if the hospital was closed. Blanchard, 74, says she is not yet ready to retire.